By Sean Keenan
When Atlanta Housing officials last month awarded a Utah tech firm the contract to replace the agency’s case management software, AH board chair Christopher Edwards seemed perturbed.
Why didn’t a local firm secure the gig, he wondered.
“Clearly, people aren’t comfortable doing business with us, and this case management system is not that complicated,” he said at the December board meeting.
That notion spurred a reinvigorated interest within the agency: Atlanta Housing should be enlisting more contractors who live in town, especially minority- or women-run businesses, and Section 3 companies.
Section 3 is a federal program that requires agencies supported by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding to “to the greatest extent possible, provide training, employment, contracting, and other economic opportunities to low- and very low-income persons, especially recipients of government assistance for housing, and to businesses that provide economic opportunities to low- and very low-income persons,” according to HUD’s website.
Essentially, AH leaders want more of their program participants to reap the economic benefits of their many projects.
On Thursday, SaportaReport sat down with AH CEO Eugene Jones to discuss how the agency can better provide jobs to Atlantans, especially those whom it helps.
(This interview was edited for clarity and length.)
SaportaReport: How did the Utah firm get chosen? Did you go through a bunch of candidates?
Atlanta Housing CEO Eugene Jones: We always do a [request for proposals], and then we select an evaluation team. Typically, now, whoever’s on the evaluation team has to be approved by me. I want to make sure the right people are on the evaluation team so they can provide expert knowledge to make sure we get the right contract… Utah came up with not necessarily the best price, but the best strategy to complete a case-management software.
At the last board meeting, Chairman Christopher Edwards said, “Clearly, people aren’t comfortable doing business with us, and this case management system is not that complicated.” He was essentially lamenting that AH didn’t end up choosing a local or Section 3 firm. What do you make of that?
When you have different leadership coming in and out, people might think that the credibility is lacking, because you’re not sure who you’re going to deal with or what direction they’re going to go. I think they’re wrongly stereotyping Atlanta Housing [based on past issues at the agency]. I think we’re doing great things, but [lately] there hadn’t been consistent management or consistent leadership; there haven’t been decisions made in a timely fashion. Now, we’re on a different page when it comes to providing information and being transparent.
Talk about that page.
We’ve had a leadership change, and we’re going to be transparent. We’re going to talk to the news media. We’re going to talk about the good stories and about the bad stories. We’re going to put it on the table. We’ve turned a page.
Down the line, what does the effort to secure more Section 3 bids look like?
I’m not saying I’m an expert on Section 3, but I know how to make it work. We sent [AH staffers] to Chicago to learn how [the Chicago Housing Authority] does Section 3. How do we put the program together? How do we train our residents for the process we go through? I’m talking about open meetings we’ve had with contractors — inviting them in and so forth. We talk about bonding capacity. We talk about things that normally haven’t been done to improve Section 3 commitments.
During these bidding processes, how do you make Atlanta more appealing to intown and, specifically, Section 3 firms?
Any contractor who wins a bid here has to have a Section 3 plan, and we have to approve it. How are they going to support [minority business enterprises] and [women-owned business enterprises] and so forth, and how are they going to work with Section 3 businesses?
You’ve been saying lately that you want to prioritize Section 3 bidders. How do you find the balance between picking the best contractor and prioritizing Section 3 companies?
Section 3 wins the day. As long as they have the capacity to do the job in a timely fashion, it is our responsibility to give [a contract] to that Section 3 contractor.
Even if the other contract is better?
As long as they fit the criteria — like any other contractor. If they have a contract that we can give a bid to — and something that’s not flagrantly way over cost — then our duty is to give [the contract] to that Section 3 business.
Is there a numeric goal for awarding more Section 3 contracts? Perhaps a percentage of the AH contracts awarded should go to those firms?
We now have a person solely responsible for Section 3, and we’re going to come up with a plan. If that means, like we did in Chicago, we establish a Section 3 office somewhere in the community so we can start marketing to [locals, MBE, WBE, and Section 3 businesses], that’s what we’ll do.
How does Atlanta stack up to cities like Chicago or others in terms of enlisting Section 3 contractors?
Chicago was on steroids. We had a lot of rehab; we had a lot of make-ready units before the contract, and we had to tear down buildings and so forth. So it was quite a different scenario. Here, we don’t have that. What we have is a lot of buildable sites, and we have opportunities for subcontracting, whether it’s infrastructure, electrical, apprenticeship programs. That’s how we’re going to facilitate getting [Section 3 contractors] on those sites.
In an ideal world, is there a scenario in which all the contracts awarded are to Section 3 companies?
Every project needs to have a Section 3 component… Any entity that receives HUD dollars needs to have a solid Section 3 plan. So every housing authority needs to have a Section 3 plan. The issue is, it hasn’t been enforceable because, if you don’t have an executive director, or a president and CEO, who supports Section 3 efforts, it doesn’t get done.
When’s AH’s updated Section 3 plan expected to drop?
I’ll get back to you.